TISM unmasked, Patrick Donovan, the Age, 7/12/01

There's always more to a TISM album than meets the eye. With the pervading theme of sexual tension on their new album, De Riguermortis, they prove they're no longer the immature, insensitive blokes they were on songs such as Defecate on My Face.

"Originally it was going to be a three-disc concept album based on the Finger bands in rock: Badfinger, Snakefinger and Powderfinger. We would call it TISM's the Finger Album, and we had the perfect tag line - 'Give your mates a sniff'," explains balaclava-wearing lead singer Ron Hitler Barassi.

"If we can deconstruct the message from the third part of the trilogy, Powderfinger, then the bald problem is that within a monogamous sexual relationship, the person who wants sex the least is in a position of power," he muses.

"And De Riguermortis is a call to Powderfinger and people in monogamous relationships. What they've got to do is agree not to have sex or masturbate for one month, and then meet each other on equal ground and recognise that the person who doesn't want to have sex might well be doing so because of a power issue rather than a sexual issue, and you need counselling.

"In my 15 years of meeting Australian rock bands, I think the issue that everyone's missed, including A Long Way to the Top, is the fact that Australian rock bands tend to be a monogamous lot, and most bands - and I'm not excluding You Am I here - are finding that they want sex more than their partners, and therefore their partners have some power over them. And De Riguermortis is finally blowing the lid on that and producing the solutions - no sex or masturbation for a month and you'll see Australian rock music change dramatically."

A TISM interview is many things: a journalist's career appraisal, a psychological counselling and analysis session, an expose of drug habits, political commentary (Barassi is horrified that Geelong Grammar can't afford a revolving hockey field and that players actually have to change sides at halftime). And now add to that sexual advice.

But to get the full picture, you have to see the band live. Apart from their energetic theatrics, the first thing that strikes you when watching a TISM concert these days is that their gags about taking the drug that killed River Phoenix and Greg! the Stop Sign! are like university toga parties - you quickly grow out of them. They only ever had the possibility of being funny once.

The second thing is how much their music sucks. Are electro-pop and a drum machine still ironic in the 21st century, especially in a song such as Techno Sucks? (He means Fatboy Slim Dusty - Ms .45)

But on closer listening, it dawns on you that TISM are one of the few punk bands in the world picking apart the absurdities and hypocrisies of everyday life and pop culture (and paying out on their label boss), and Australia is a more democratic and humorous place for their existence.

Sure they take aim at plenty of easy targets, such as Real TV, scooters, Fred Durst, extreme sports, hippies, schoolies week, DJs, suburban techno-heads, London, pay TV, the Queen Mother, the stockmarket and BMWs. But they're worthy targets nonetheless.

And there are plenty of institutions usually protected by PC code that come in for a beating, such as Moby, Radiohead, even The Age opinion writers.

Lyrically they're as edgy and clever as ever on songs such as (You're Only) Five Yards (From a F---wit): "You're only one fad away from being retro/You're only one drug away from liking techno . . . You're only one station from John Laws' shit/You're only one lobotomy from believing it."

Or X-Treme Sports Can Kiss My Arse: "Base jumping's for pussies/Kick boxing's for thugs/Jet skiers are morons/Weight lifters need drugs/Abseiling is pointless/Why climb up a wall?/Only right wankers/Play beach volleyball."

So what brings them back for their first album and performances since 1998's www.tism.wanker.com? Did they get sick of their teaching, media and advertising jobs and miss being pop stars? Or was there a whole new bunch of people grating them?

"As Freud pointed out, artists are motivated by the desire for women, money and fame, and because they can't get it any proper way, they do it via their art. And when successful, they get women, money and fame, and thus their art dried up. The key to TISM's longevity is we've got none of those," Hitler Barassi says.

"As (champion of self-reliance and moral independence) Henry David Thoreau says, 'Men live lives of quiet desperation'. I don't know how desperate Thom Yorke's life can be, or the lives of Powderfinger or any successful rock band can be, but when you're in TISM, let me tell you, when the mask comes off, you go back to your life of quiet desperation. Thus the inner fires of TISM still burn bright, because the essential crapness of our lives remains intact."

There's no doubting the energy of a live TISM show. And despite their thuggish appearance, Hitler Barassi says the band are still nervous before every show.

"Ron Hitler Barassi shits himself before every show. We don't play enough live to make live anything other than a really special space. We're seven scared men pumping."

But the true masterstroke of TISM is something only Kiss have nailed - their masks will hide their ageing, and they can be pop stars eternally. But, Hitler Barassi says, that won't guarantee their longevity.

"One thing about playing live, there's nowhere to hide; you're either good or you're bad, it's a kickin' gig, or it's a shite gig. The nanosecond TISM aren't kickin', we'll hear about it. Live is the deep dark upon which is reflected who you really are. Until we get tripped up, fuck my age. Fuck The Age."

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